You may remember Stan “The Man” Musial, the Cardinals’ legend from 1941-44, and 1946-63. He won seven National League batting titles in his career. You may also remember Stan “The Man” Stasiak, also known as “Crusher.” He wrestled for the WWE from 1971-79 (WWWF at the time). He was remembered for his mighty “Heart Punch”. Of course, in New England sports lore, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski (“Yaz”), Larry Bird, and Bobby Orr all could be considered “The Man”. Certainly, Tom Brady will hold that honor for the foreseeable future.
But what does it truly mean to be “The Man”? Saint Polycarp (AD 69 – 155), Bishop of Smyrna, whom the Church remembers today, was “The Man” in an entirely different sense: His unparalleled example as a man immovable in his faith and imitation of Jesus’ life.
Saint Polycarp was 86 years of age when he was martyred around the year 155 AD. He was likely the last surviving person to have met one of the Twelve Apostles, having been a disciple of Saint John. The importance of this unique position in stewarding the Gospel was not lost in Polycarp, even when facing death.
When persecution broke out in Smyrna, many Christians were rounded up for interrogation, and required to renounce Christ and bow before the Roman emperor as a condition of release. When they refused, they were tortured and executed.
The Roman public began to call for the death of Polycarp. Convinced to retreat for a time, Polycarp stayed out of sight, using the time for prayer. Three days before his arrest, he declared to see a vision in a dream, that his pillow was in flames. Turning to his companions, he said, “I am going to be burned alive.”
Once captured, Polycarp was taken by carriage to the stadium for execution, escorted by the Roman proconsul. The Roman guard tried to convince Polycarp to save himself by saying, “Caesar is Lord.” Polycarp refused the very thought of renouncing Christ.
Throngs of roaring spectators met Polycarp at the stadium. As he entered, those with Polycarp heard a voice from above say, “Be strong Polycarp, and play the man.”
According to observers, as the flames grew, they did not consume Polycarp as expected. The fire formed a circle around him, but his body did not burn. Since the fire did not have its intended effect on Polycarp’s body, an executioner was ordered to stab him to death with a dagger. His blood extinguished the flames.
The whole of Polycarp’s life and death pointed to Jesus Christ, the True Man.
According to John 19:4-5:
“Pilate went out again and said to them, ‘See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.’ So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man!’”John 19:4-5
Pilate was quick and smug to say, “Behold the man”. With a purple robe and twisted crown of thorns intended to humiliate Him, Pilate presents Jesus as a mockery to the crowd. Pilate’s words show the true irony of the situation, as Jesus is truly the perfect man, the second Adam, and the perfect sacrifice.
May we follow Saint Polycarp’s example in imitating Christ with boldness in the face of hostility.